UW-River Falls students join Milwaukee protest against Alberta pipeline

Posted February 17, 2016

Seven UW-River Falls students and two alumni traveled Feb. 11 to Milwaukee, the setting of the sixth Democratic presidential debate, to attend the #ClipperIsTheNewXL rally.

Stationed outside of the Helene Zelazo Center for the Performing Arts at the UW-Milwaukee, the goal of the rally was to show opposition to tar sand projects and encourage U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to oppose the Alberta Clipper Pipeline.

The Alberta Clipper Pipeline, or Line 67, transports crude oil that has been extracted from oil sands from Canada to the United States. The pipeline runs from Hardisty, Canada, through North Dakota and Minnesota and ends in Superior, Wisconsin. Owned by Canadian company Enbridge Energy, the Alberta Clipper Pipeline began pumping 45,000 barrels per day (bpd) in 2010. In 2013, Enbridge announced a two-phase plan to increase the pumping capacity of the pipeline to 54,000 bpd and then 800,000 bpd, the maximum pumping capacity, according to a Minnesota Public Utilities Commission press release.

The rally was put together by the Sierra Club, a grassroots environmental organization, as part of its “Beyond Oil” campaign. The organization warns against the negative environmental impacts of the pipeline, including putting “federal, state, and tribal lands and waters at risk of devastating oil spills,” according to the Sierra Club website.

Natasha Horsfall is a freshman at UWRF majoring in environmental and international studies and has volunteered with the Sierra Club. She said she was happy with the turnout of the rally, with many students from all over the UW-System along with concerned members of the community showing up to make their voices heard.

“I think it was a success because we got people from all over the state in one place to support an issue that not many people even know about,” said Horsfall. “We didn’t just put a message out on Facebook, we actually showed up and we rallied.”

#ClipperIsTheNewXL refers to the Keystone XL Pipeline, a proposed crude oil pipeline that would have begun in Hardisty, Canada, and run to Steele City, Nebraska. Proposed by TransCanada, the pipeline was planned to have a carrying capacity of 830,000 bpd. This plan was met with controversy and protest among environmental groups. On Nov. 6, 2015, President Obama officially denied the application for a presidential permit to build the pipeline.

Holly Dolliver, associate professor of soil science and geology at UWRF, is researching frac sand production in Wisconsin and its environmental impact. Dolliver said that it is important for people to know the environmental impact of energy extraction practices.

“I think it’s good for people to be asking questions, to be engaging with scientists and to be engaging with people that can study these systems,” said Dolliver. “I think the very best way to understand [the environmental impact] is through scientific pursuits.”

Among the UWRF students protesting in Milwaukee were members of the Environmetal Corps of Sustainabilty (ECOS). Greta Gaard, the faculty advisor of ECOS, said that student activism is necessary because it gives people an opportunity to experience what it’s like to participate actively in democracy, and that not all democracy happens through voting.

“Students who get involved in social justice activism, climate activism, prepare themselves for a lifetime of being active citizens in our country,” said Gaard. “So you could almost say it’s patriotic.”

With the triumph of the Keystone XL Pipeline opposition still fresh in the minds of those who fought for environmental justice, Horsfall said that she believes that this new fight can also be won.

“You can’t ever lose hope. As long as you’re breathing and moving and working, you can’t give up on yourself,” said Horsfall. “It might seem gloomy some days, but history has shown great things can happen in the most unexpected ways.”